Sunday, June 07, 2015

Polarized Black Attitudes Towards Jews

Today I came across a short but very interesting study (unfortunately pay-walled) exploring the difference between White and black attitudes towards Jews. The thrust of it was that American Blacks are not more anti-Semitic than White people, they're just more polarized. Specifically, there are unique social threads pulling Black persons in both philo-Semitic directions (e.g., views of Jews as fellow victims or as liberal allies) and anti-Semitic directions (e.g., economic tensions or nationalistic scapegoating). The result is that while in the aggregate Black and White attitudes towards Jews are similar, Black views are more likely to be either strongly favorable or strongly unfavorable (whereas Whites tend to cluster in the middle).

The authors tested this along two dimensions: residential social distance (non-Jewish respondents asked if they would like to live in a neighborhood where the majority of residents were Jewish), and marital social distance (non-Jewish respondents asked if they would approve or disapprove of a close relative marrying a Jew). For both questions, Whites and Blacks in the aggregate had basically similar attitudes. But Black respondents were more likely to cluster at the poles (either strongly approving or strongly disapproving).

I've written several times on this blog against the notion that the Black community is particularly prone to anti-Semitism (which is not to say that there are no anti-Semitic Black people). This study, in addition to reinforcing that sentiment, also perhaps helps explain why some people seem to think that the Black community is particularly problematic in the respect. Sharp expressions of negativity probably stand out and stick in the mind more than strong positive feelings; hence, it is likely that in terms of recollection the two poles don't "wash out" and is more available than the other.

The study citation is David Raden, American Blacks' and Whites' Preferred Social Distance from Jews, 138 J. Soc. Psych. 265 (1998).


Mark said...

Seems suspect to me that you social scientists think you can distinguish in the wash of animus that American Blacks have for whites the specific animus they might have against a small minority in that sea. What's next a study that confirms that American Blacks have no particular hatred or spite against Basques or Serbs?

David Schraub said...

It ... doesn't strike me as that odd that people would have distinct attitudes towards Jews compared to White people writ large. It seems relatively unremarkable and not the least bit counterintuitive that people would have specific and distinct attitudes towards Jews, and are more likely to do so than to have specific and distinct attitudes towards the Basque.

Mark said...

Why would you think that to be the case? In WWII do you think soldiers of any nation made found cultural or ethnic distinctions among their enemies were significant in their attitudes about them? Do you think when Baltimore youths were rioting and so forth, "gosh ... that white store owner might be Jewish" ever occurred to anyone in their decision to loot or not?

Basque. Hmm. Odd you'd pick that of the two choices. You do know that bigotry and poor opinions of Serbs is the "approved" racial bigotry in Northern Europe? Perhaps you don't. Why would you ... after all you don't learn to hate anyone you don't ever see. And pretty much that is why, since most of the Jewish people in the country in the North East (and perhaps LA) ... you'd find that most American Blacks probably have never considered the question of Anti-Semitism because they don't know anyone who is Jewish (and that might also be true of most of the rest of Americans who don't live in the Northeast).

So. Why is it? Why do you think American Blacks, most of whom never meet or interact with anyone who is Jewish might likely have an opinion about Jews?

David Schraub said...

Again, I find this exceptionally odd. First of all, the idea that "in the middle of a battle/riot" should be our paradigm case of when people make distinctions somewhat loads the deck. We in fact do know that, away from the battlefield (but during the war) Americans made very different calls in how they treated "German" and "Italian" versus "Japanese" (we could also talk about the Crown Heights riots in this context). But of course "in the heat of battle" does not exhaust the discursive terrain.

Second, it is odd that you'd infer any commentary of mine on European bigotry given that this is an American-centric conversation (though I'd say the most "approved" bigotry in Europe is against the Roma). Yes, different cultural contexts elevate the salience of certain identities. That's not remotely remarkable.

Third, it is odd that "most Jews live in urban centers" (I wouldn't say just the Northeast and LA -- what about Chicago, or Miami, or the Twin Cities, or cincinnati?) cuts in your favor as a reason why Black people would likely not have any interaction with Jews. There are plenty of Black people in the metropoli where there are plenty of Jews.

Fourth, it is odd that you think personal interaction is the only mechanism through which people form opinions about Others. There is, of course, a burgeoning literature on attitudes about Jews in places where there really are virtually no Jews; the obvious answer is that places that lack Jews might still have representations of Jews (see also, why a person in rural America who does not know any Muslims might still have formed beliefs about them; or, for that matter, why a Muslim in Iran might have formed beliefs about Americans without ever having met one). Indeed, a prominent element of anti-Semitism is precisely that it doesn't need actual Jews to flourish, because they're presented as shadowy, world-dominating figures pulling strings from the shadows.

Fifth, it is odd that you remain skeptical that these opinions exist given that (as this study demonstrates!) Black people do have distinct attitudes about Jews! It's not just some weird speculation on my part, we can see it! And, of course, there is plenty of scholarship that has explored Black-Jewish relations over the years -- ranging from their economic relations in early-to-mid-20th century cities, to their relationship as part of the civil rights movement, to constructions of Jewishness in the Black Power movement. The idea that Black-Jewish relations is a meaningful question is not remotely novel.

It seems like you're making a French Bureaucrat's Objection to the study ("sure it works in practice, but does it work in theory?"). If you find it odd as a theoretical matter that Blacks would have distinct opinions about Jews, learning that they do in fact have such distinct opinions should cause you to reassess your theories.